The Strange Days Of Bob Dylan
Updated: Sep 25, 2023
Nobel-Prize-winning Bob Dylan is a world-class weirdo, in a good way. He was born different, that’s for sure, but living for so long under intense scrutiny probably didn’t help tamp down any interpersonal oddness.
He's been joking around for years, fooling journalists into thinking that he was a runaway child of the circus, and he continued to learn thereafter not to take life too seriously. As he croaked when the 1960s got a little too humourless for him and he set about reclaiming his freedom, “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger now.”
Mildly absurdist and drier than Oscar the Grouch’s bathmat, you shouldn’t let his spiritually sagacious and serious side fool you into thinking that there’s not a sly smile underneath.
After all, when Joan Osbourne supported him at the Irving Plaza she finished her set and went to the back of the 2,000 strong crowd to enjoy a drink at the back bar and appreciate Dylan’s set from afar. Only for Dylan to call out mid-set, “I’d like to thank Joan Osbourne. Joan and I are going to sing a song.” When the shocked singer began wading through the crowd towards the stage, Dylan casually added, “…but not tonight.”
Aside from such gags, he has also landed himself in some scrapes too and surreal experiences, here are 12 of my favourites...
1. He Called Carrie Fisher to Brainstorm Names for Cologne
In her memoir Wishful Drinking, Fisher writes about getting a call from Dylan. He’d been asked to endorse a cologne called Just Like a Woman, but he didn’t like that name and wanted her advice on alternates. She gave him a few sarcastic options: “Ambivalence, for the scent of confusion”; “Arbitrary, for the man who doesn’t gave a shit how he smells”; and “Empathy — feel like them and smell like this.” To her surprise, “Bob actually liked those!”
2. He Was Picked Up by New Jersey Police for Looking Like a Hobo
In Long Branch, New Jersey, in 2009, Dylan, who was in town for a concert, decided to take a stroll. This did not go well. A couple of police officers, responding to complaints about a “scruffy old man acting suspiciously” picked up the ID-less singer. He was taken back to his hotel, where the reception staff explained to the officers who, exactly, they’d picked up.
3. He Confused Parky for a Waiter
Michael Parkinson is a distinguished English talk-show host, whose show Parkinson aired on the BBC for 33 years. So what? I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, and, according to Parkinson, neither could Dylan. Parkinson had approached Dylan at a restaurant to tell him that he loved his music. Dylan’s reply? “Eggs over easy and coffee.”
4. He Gave Axl Rose Some Cold, Hard Truth
Axl Rose was in a rare expansive mood at a 2009 concert in Taiwan. Speaking to the audience in between songs, Rose mentioned meeting Dylan years before: “Bob asked me, ‘When you gonna record ‘Heaven’s Door’? And I said, ‘I don’t know, but we really love that song.’ And he said, ‘I don’t give a fuck. I just want the money.’ True story!”
5. His Dog Fouled Katherine Hepburn’s Flowers
For a time, Dylan rented a home next door to Katharine Hepburn in Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighbourhood. According to his aide-de-camp Victor Maymudes, Dylan let his Bullmastiff, Brutus, “shit in her flowerbed all the time.” And these weren’t dainty droppings. “The dog could really lay some logs,” Maymudes wrote. “I think if it was a small dog, [Hepburn] wouldn’t have cared.”
7. His Dog Also Ate Michael Douglas’s Caviar
Michael Douglas tells a story about being invited by George Harrison to hang out with him and Dylan. “George Harrison walks in with Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan has the biggest dog you’ve ever seen in your life.” Douglas orders some caviar for the trio, which Dylan’s dog (Brutus again?) promptly devours. “Bob Dylan hadn’t said a word yet,” Douglas recalls, “then finally he looks over and goes ‘far out.’”
8. He Didn’t Much Care for Led Zeppelin
This one also comes from McLagan’s book: During the mid-’70s, McLagan finds himself in a room with Dylan and Led Zeppelin’s infamously brutish manager Peter Grant, where he witnesses the following exchange: “Hello, Bob. I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin.” After a short silence, Dylan replies: “I don’t come to you with my problems.”
9. He Wrongly Assumed the Beatles Smoked Marijuana
Dylan famously turned the Beatles on to marijuana, at the Delmonico Hotel, in August 1964. Before they all smoked, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein told Dylan that the band members hadn’t tried the drug before. Dylan was shocked: He’d been mishearing the line “I can’t hide” in the chorus of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” as “I get high.”
10. He Heard a Ghost Dog
Muff Winwood was the bassist with the Spencer Davis Group when that band wound up in Birmingham, England, in 1966, at the same time as Dylan. The musicians all met up, and Dylan mentioned that he was into ghosts and figured there’d be some good ones in England. As Winwood lays it out in Wanted Man: In Search of Bob Dylan, he and his bandmates told Dylan that they knew of an abandoned house nearby, one believed to be haunted by the ghost of a dog. So they all headed out to the house and poked around. At one point, they heard a dog bark. “Now this is likely to happen in the countryside in Worcestershire,” Winwood notes, “but Dylan is convinced he’s heard the ghost of a dog! He was like a kid … running up to you grabbing you by the arm going ‘This is unbelievable!’”
11. He Napped in Neil Young’s Hearse
In the Neil Young biography Shakey, artist Sandy Mazzeo remembers taking Young’s ’54 Pontiac hearse for a drive. (This is in the mid-’70s.) Mazzeo hears a series of loud bangs. “I’m thinkin’, Oh my God, it’s a ghost.’ I look in the rearview mirror and it’s Bob.” Dylan had, for whatever reason, climbed into the back of the vehicle and gone to sleep. “Dylan was in his turban stage, and he’d slept in his turban and it had come all undone — he looked like the mummy.”
12. Turned away from his own concert
2001 was a year when security was on high alert all around the world. Thus, when a shifty little miscreant was floating around outside of a Bob Dylan concert he was promptly turned away, only for it to later emerge that the suspicious vagabond up to no good was due to grace the stage that very evening. Dylan had requested stricter security but being turned away from his own concert is not what he had in mind.